Sunday, 8 July 2012 ~ “Huh?!”

Scriptures:    2 Corinthians 12:2-10                Mark 6:1-13

LET US PRAY:  Holy and still-speaking God ~ open our ears so we may hear Your holy Word; open our hearts and minds that we may fully live out Your message in our daily lives.  Amen.

What is it about familiarity that breeds contempt?  Jesus’ rejection in His hometown of Nazareth proves that old adage to be true.  After performing miracles on both shores ~ as well as in the middle ~ of the Sea of Galilee, He returns to the town where He has grown up and lived an ordinary life.  And He goes to the place where any Jewish teacher would go: to the synagogue, where He teaches the hometown crowd.

Perhaps it is the unexpectedness of the whole event that precipitates the reaction of the people.  It is quite apparent that these townsfolk are not expecting to see “little Jesus’ who grew up around the corner … OR who became a local tradesman … in the role of a wise prophet of God.  Obviously His teaching astounds them … but then quickly hits a raw nerve.

At first, the crowd is amazed.  “Where did He get such authority?” they ask each other.  And, initially, the crowd seems to be rather pleased that a hometown boy has proven Himself so learned.

BUT all too soon, the familiarity hits home and the crowd turns ugly … asking themselves questions like:   “Isn’t he that snot-nosed kid of Mary and Joseph?  Remember how he was always outside ~ playing with his brothers and sisters and the neighborhood kids?”  And, “Yeah, I remember how we had to scold him sometimes … BUT he DID make beautiful furniture.  AND, now, here he is … thinking he’s better than our rabbi!!!”

And, in a sense, we can understand their reaction.  It had to be tough for them.  After all, he is still visibly the same Jesus that they have always known.  They knew him to be just like anyone else in the town … not some miracle worker.

You know, this overtly negative, outrageous response to Jesus from the neighbors in Nazareth does NOT paint a flattering portrait of the community in Nazareth OR Jesus Himself.

The people come across as mean-spirited, jealous and even mocking.
And Jesus responds to their fickleness with His own angry words: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their kin and in their own house!”

But, it is in this heated exchange between Jesus and the townsfolk that we find a stark reminder of the humanity of BOTH the neighbors and Jesus Himself.

Now: let me ask you to think for a moment.  How would we have reacted, had we been part of that crowd?  And, bringing it into today’s world:  What would WE think about a neighbor whom we believed to be just an ordinary, hardworking man turning into a miraculous teacher, let alone the reputed Son of God”
I would be willing to bet that we would have our own share of skepticism … especially since we tend to see what we expect to see and are often slow to accept the changes that challenge what we have always known to be “SO”.

Imagine what your reaction might be today if a son or daughter of the congregation was called to be your Pastor.  This person is no longer the kid-next-door who came to Sunday School and sat with his/her parents in church.  NO!  They are now an adult and a trained professional.  YET, most of us would be more inclined to still see that person as the kid who always sang louder than the other kids in the Children’s Choir and who used to chase his/her friends around church every Sunday after worship.

The townspeople of Nazareth expected to see the Jesus they had always known, the one who seemed no different from them.  When Jesus began preaching with wisdom and performing deeds of power, the people of Nazareth could not see beyond their own limited view of Him.

Today’s story from Mark moves us to ask ourselves some really tough questions.  For instance:  What opportunities have we missed … and what blessings have we overlooked … because of our own limited faith?  And, how does this affect our relationship with Jesus?

Because of the unbelief of the people of Nazareth, Jesus is rendered powerless.  This is a troubling statement, for we know that God has endowed Jesus, as the Messiah, with God’s own power.  Here, AGAIN, we are reminded of the reality of Jesus’ humanity.  Just as Jesus struggled against temptation in the desert at the beginning of His ministry and against the reality of His fate in the Garden of Gethsemane at the end of His ministry … HERE He struggles with the limitations of His full humanity ~ being rendered powerless by those who doubt His calling.

But Jesus’ powerlessness is not primarily about Him … but about US and the many times that we are unwilling to believe AND claim AND proclaim the great things God can do ~ in our lives, in our world.

Which leads me to another important question: WHO do we take for granted?  WHAT wisdom, what deeds of power are we missing because we are too busy making judgments about how and through whom God’s work can ~ or should ~be done?

Tomorrow evening, Brandon and Bre … Jeremy and Kristen … Renay and Ric … Pastor Den and myself will join the other youth and adults from Pennsylvania Southeast Conference.  We will break bread together and then board buses for Purdue University.  On Tuesday, we will join thousands of other youth and adults from across our country for a very special event … the National Youth Event of the United Church of Christ.
The theme for NYE 2012 is IMAGINE … and for 3 days, we will  be invited to Imagine an Extravagant Welcome … Imagine a Healthy World … Imagine a World Where Differences are Embraced, and to Imagine One Church!

For 3 days: we will have an opportunity to participate in lively, thought-provoking workshops … to serve the local community by participating in service projects … to encourage literacy by donating a child’s book to the Literacy Labyrinth.  Each day, we will gather to praise our God together in worship.  One of the highlights of the Event will be a presentation by the special keynote speaker, J R Martinez ~ war hero, winner of Dancing with the Stars competition, and soap opera star.

More importantly, for 3 days, we will have an opportunity to share our experiences and our stories and our faith as we connect in many different settings, with UCCers from:

  • Every state AND every type of community
  • Every type of background and ethnic origin
  • People who have been baptized into the UCC or other denominations
  • People who have been:
  • Raised in the traditional church
  • Raised in non-Christian traditions
  • Raised with NO church influence

In short: our youth and the other folks at the National Youth Event will be sharing in an experience that is like no other … one that will change their lives and their faith forever.

You know, the story of Jesus’ experience in Nazareth sets up the mission of the 12 disciples as Jesus sends them into the local communities ~ to share their stories of the work of God being done in their midst, through the ministry of Jesus Christ.

In the same way, the National Youth Event is doing the same for our youth.  They will return from this Event with a lot of new stories from their experiences … stories about how:

  • Their faith has been impacted by the stories of others
  • Their faith in God has grown deeper
  • Their personal faith and focus may have changed ~ and is evolving.

My friends, ~ as we listen to our youth ~ I pray that we will have the wisdom and courage to allow their stories to:

  • Deepen our own faith
  • Expand our view of God at work in our world
  • Open us to see our youth as the future leaders of the church who aren’t afraid to share their deep and abiding experience of God in Jesus at work in their life.

Amen.

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